Last year is a year that I’d like to forget. I would love to never speak of it again, but it was so momentous and life-changing that it’s impossible to talk about our lives now without mentioning the year that was.
In short, my daughter was bullied so badly that we had to remove her from school for her own safety. We had previously moved from a private school to a public school for the same reason, and then eventually we (the school, the police, and as a family) made the collective decision to remove her from mainstream schooling.
While navigating the year that was, finding the right options as alternatives for mainstream learning was challenging. I spent nights googling home school, and distance education, and even TAFE, and with an already over-stimulated brain, I just couldn’t process anymore.
So, I want to share here what options are available, so you can use this as a starting point if you find yourself in a similar position, or just looking for alternatives.
Where mainstream school ended for us
I remember the Friday that everything changed for us. I couldn’t get my daughter to school. We’d decided as a family to give it one more day, and see how it went. I called the school counsellor to meet us and escort my daughter in (more peaceful than it sounds). I had a medical appointment to go to, so I didn’t mind if she only lasted for that appointment, but we had decided we’d give it one last go (which I regret, it was unnecessary). Our police contact saw our daughter that morning at school (she was quite distressed), and called me straight away – and suggested that it was no longer productive, safe, or ideal for her to be at school. I knew in my gut it was the right decision, so we removed her from school.
We had nothing in place at this stage as an alternative. As a planner, and a rule follower, this concerned me. I started making phone calls. Our school did run Distance Education through their school, but it meant attending the school for lessons. This was the school’s solution to the problem, but entering the school grounds wasn’t an option for us.
For a term we did no schooling at all. We had to stay enrolled in a school, so our school knew our plans and we were in communications regularly. We still received fortnightly letters around attendance (just part of their process), which we were supposed to reply to in regards to why she wasn’t attending. We just ignored them, because we were working on our Distance Education plan. We were told by the Vice Principal that the only issue that might pop up, is the Department of Education might be in touch if she doesn’t attend school for an extended period of time, but we could just explain what we were doing and it would be fine. We were prepared for that to happen, and it didn’t.
We enrolled in Distance Education (this was a slow process, which is why we had no school for a term). There are many options for Distance Education around Australia. We have one nearby, Southern Cross Distance Education, which would have been ideal – but they requested that we do in school (at the school we were trying to leave), so we didn’t opt for Southern Cross. It’s a shame because they have options for face-to-face time, and rooms nearby where students can study together (not in the school).
What is Distance Education? Distance Education is online learning available to students who are geographically isolated or unable to attend school on a regular basis due to special circumstances. In some instances, distance education is also available to students who are unable to access an appropriate curriculum at their local school.
Instead we opted for Cairns School of Distance Education. They take students throughout Australia, and even families traveling overseas. I’d heard people rave about CSDE (Cairns School of Distance Education), so I was really happy to be taking up this option for our daughter, and grateful to be accepted.
The process is a lot of paperwork, and did require us to take paperwork to our doctor to sign to explain why we were moving to Distance Education. We requested a medical exemption to have fees waived due to the circumstances we were in (due to bullying), and they were granted. The fees differ from school to school, and are less than private school. Services NSW also has a Distance Education fee (through the Isolated Children Scheme) which pays around $4698 a year. We haven’t applied for this, so I’m not sure how challenging this process is, but it’s good to know it’s there – they do also back pay.
Cairns School of Distance Education does offer school camps and meet-ups, which are often in Brisbane (nearby to us). We’re in our second term and I’m already highly impressed so far.
What does a day of Distance Education look like?
All lessons are online. You will need a laptop to do Distance Education. You will be a small fee (under $100 for us) to be sent text books, science equipment etc for lessons – this would depend on subjects you’ve selected). We have a weekly timetable with up to 3 lessons a day, with some days only one lesson. Lessons are an hour long, and the teacher teaches online, much like many might have experienced during COVID lockdown periods.
Assignments are called Work Returns. Each subject will have a few Work Returns each term. The workload is fair. You don’t have to watch the lessons live, and can watch later if required. We find watching live is best so we can ask questions, and stay on top of things. It can feel quite overwhel
What does it require from the parent?
Each student has to nominate a parent or carer as a tutor. I am the tutor for my daughter, although Shane and I share the load. It just means we sit with her during her lessons and reiterate any important information (as my daughter has learning difficulties). Independent learners, or advanced students, could easily work independently through the workload. I would have loved Distance Education as a teen!
Each student will also have to nominate a non-family member to monitor exams. Ideally this is a teacher, or police officer, or the like – but also can be just any responsible adult not related to the student.
How is Distance Education different from home schooling?
With Distance Education the curriculum is done for you, and taught by teachers. My understanding is that home schooling you must develop or purchase the curriculum yourself, and teach your children everything required. With Distance Education the school will do marking, reporting and monitor the progress. With homeschooling (my limited understanding) is that the Department of Education does check in annually to make sure each child is showing progress in learning. Personally, if I didn’t have work commitments, I’d opt for home schooling because I could tailor the learning to her needs and lessen the load a little. For now, Distance Education works for us.
What do I love about Distance Education?
- That it’s engaging. In each lesson questions will be asked and each student can respond (usually by typing in the chat box).
- There’s room to grow. We’re healing and just doing the bare minimum right now, but if you were an adventurous, keen learning you could choose more subjects, and even add in TAFE courses to fast-track learning.
- The staff are passionate and adaptable. I’m so impressed how well the teachers can teach online, and the methods they use to engage the kids. They keep it fun.
- The team care. I’ve had so many beautiful emails and phone calls checking in the from the team. I was expecting to just be a number, but they care about their students.
- The subject options. We’ve chosen Food Studies as an elective, and I love that my daughter can do her cooking in our kitchen. It’s so easy!
- They still have school awards, assembly, formals etc. I love that this maintains that same school experience.
What don’t I love about Distance Education?
- There’s not a lot adaptability for learning difficulties. And this is simply because of the school size and style. There’s one level of maths (which I actually found at mainstream school too. What ever happened to Maths in Space?). We have extra lessons with support teachers, which is brilliant. I do wish that we could learn a more simpler Maths/English etc to make things easier. I do love that they adapt their expectations in accordance to her abilities.
- The juggle. And this is really a ‘me’ thing. I find it hard to juggle tutoring, parenting and working.
What do you do about socialisation?
If we didn’t have the experience we had at high school last year, we’d probably be more social – but as I mentioned, we’re still healing and recovering. Sports are a great way to socialise, as is a part-time job. If you join Home Schooling groups on Facebook, there are loads of activities that happen during the week which would be brilliant to tap into. I am amazed at the things that go on, and are available to home school kids. I’m talking Japanese Cooking Classes, Theme Park Visits, Gymnastics, even our local Wildlife Sanctuary has a program for home school kids to do. We joined a home school camp last year, which was so good because the parents stayed too. We did it near the beach and had a Marine Biologist teaching us things for three days, and the cost was really low. There is so much!
Our experience so far
In all honesty, I regret not doing this sooner. I wish we’d never moved to the public school and instead jumped into Distance Education. It would have eliminated a lot of unnecessary trauma. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, I guess.
I love that this option exists, as it’s a great alternative to in school learning. Our days are busy, and it’s hard learning online sometimes, but it works OK for us. My goal is that she’ll move to TAFE to complete year 10 eventually (the course is 4 months long, and requires in person learning for 15 hours a week). One day at a time though!
I can’t get the comment section here to show up, but if you have any questions, you can always email or DM me. I’m happy to help, where I can. x